Two years ago ADI filmed inside the Great British Circus elephant tent when staff thought no one was looking.
The video of elephants being punched, kicked and beaten was not the first ADI exposé to horrify the UK public, and it wasn’t the last.
Following this, the British Government held a public consultation: 95% demanded a ban on wild animals in circuses. A ban was promised, but an election changed the Government and silence followed.
So in a technically difficult operation, ADI secretly filmed the UK’s last circus elephant, Anne (Bobby Robert’s Super Circus), in her barn over the winter – chained, alone, arthritic, beaten, kicked and spat on. We released it in March. Surely enough was enough?
Sir Paul McCartney, Queen guitarist Brian May, comedian Ricky Gervais, and actor Brian Blessed threw their weight behind the ADI campaign; 200 Members of Parliament (MPs) signed a motion calling for a ban; an ADI commissioned opinion poll showed 72% of the British public want a ban.
“Animal Defenders International’s recent footage of Anne the elephant being beaten graphically displays why the government should ban wild animals in circuses. I am appalled that wild animals are still kept in circuses and fully support the call for a ban. It is high time that Government got on and implemented one.”
“I hate to see wild animals in circuses. It is heartbreaking to see these poor animals confined in small cages and carted around the country with little respect for their welfare and well-being. I have made my feelings known previously on this subject and I believe an outright ban is long overdue.”
Sir Paul McCartney
“The use of wild animals in circuses is cruel, distasteful and unacceptable in the 21st century. Our present government is currently backing away from ending this abhorrent practice. We call on David Cameron personally to act now, and take a step towards making Britain worthy of its desired status as a nation of animal-lovers.”
Government creates excuses
But in May, the Government department responsible (Defra) announced it would not ban wild animals in circuses but, instead, would introduce a licensing system, because of fears of a legal challenge.
They claimed a ban was not possible because of a pending legal case against Austria over its ban on wild animals in circuses. In fact the case the Government was relying on had been heard and closed by the European Commission in 2006, and rejected by the European Ombudsman in 2010. ADI submitted evidence on both occasions. The Austrian Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed that the Government’s statement was inaccurate.
ADI and a delegation of MPs presented Defra with statements from the European Commission and Austrian Court and the Defra Minister was forced to admit that Parliament had been misled. Then the Government claimed that a ban might be illegal under the European Services Directive (freedom to trade) and breach the UK’s Human Rights Act.
ADI submitted independent legal advice that a ban would not be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK Human Rights Act 1998 nor the European Union Services Directive.
By early June, MPs, furious with the Government misinformation, held a special debate in Parliament which including a vote on a motion urging Defra to ban animals in circuses. On the day of the key vote, dozens of ADI supporters travelled to London to lobby their MPs.
What followed was extraordinary in political terms. It became clear that Prime Minister David Cameron was personally opposing a ban and instructed that all Government MPs must vote against it – using party powers usually reserved for votes like economics or war.
Starting the debate in Parliament, Mark Pritchard MP announced that he had been offered advancement if he dropped the issue and threatened that his career was finished if he continued. Other MPs reported similar pressure. Facing widespread defiance, the Government relented and MPs voted with their conscience. They voted unanimously for a ban on wild animal acts.
The vote directs the Government to act; it is not binding, but carries considerable weight. However, the Coalition Government seems to be dogmatically sticking to plans to “regulate” this cruel industry.
ADI has responded with a report ‘Out of Control’ including case studies showing how inspections have failed to detect abuse, and seriously ill animals being concealed.
In a strange coincidence, after the June vote a circus challenged Austria’s ban. Their case was dismissed by the Austrian Constitutional Court in December.